Despite Iraq’s recent announcement that it will accept the new United Nations Security Council resolution demanding inspectors be granted access to its weapons of mass destruction program, the United States may still opt for military action if the result is anything short of full compliance.

U.S. think tank experts who took part in a recent symposium in Tokyo predicted the administration of President George W. Bush will do “whatever it takes” to stop Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from possessing nuclear weapons.

They also said that in the event of a U.S. strike, what really matters is how the Iraqi situation evolves after the conflict.

While the U.S. spent a substantial amount of time pursuing a multilateral approach to Iraq through the U.N., Washington “is determined to make sure that Saddam Hussein does not have nuclear weapons,” James Steinberg told the Nov. 11 symposium, organized by the Keizai Koho Center in Tokyo.

“And it will do whatever it takes,” Steinberg, vice president and director of foreign policy studies program at the Brookings Institution, said at the symposium, titled “The present state of Japan-U.S. relations; From the economic, diplomacy and security perspectives.”

The Bush administration is deeply skeptical of any steps that Hussein takes voluntarily, he said.

“He may agree on paper to these new inspections, but there is no conviction at all in Washington that this approach will lead to disarmament. Therefore, you are going to see the administration moving very quickly to judge and test whether (the Iraqi president) is serious about complying,” he added.

That act could come very soon, he said, because the new U.N. resolution, which Iraq said it would accept on Nov. 13, requires Iraq to fully declare all weapons of mass destruction by Dec. 8.

“If (President Hussein) does not fully disclose what he has got . . . he will be in material breach of the new U.N. Security Council resolution, which can by itself be a trigger for the U.S. to take military action,” he predicted. “We could potentially have a crisis within a month from today . . . and there is a very serious possibility of a military conflict within a month or two thereafter.”

What will follow conflict?

So what are the implications of post-conflict development in Iraq for the broader international community?

Kurt Campbell, former deputy assistant secretary of defense in the administration of President Bill Clinton, told the audience that too much time is spent in Washington discussing how the first phase of the possible U.S. war on Iraq will develop and the immediate aftermath of the conflict.

The real problem, he noted, is not the conflict but the period after the conflict. “It is referred to in Washington as ‘the day after,’ (but) the reality is that is it not the day after, but ‘the decade after,’ ” he said.

“It will take an extraordinary international effort involving the United States, Japan and other countries to rebuild a shattered Iraq, both from war and (from the despotic rule of Hussein),” said Campbell, currently senior vice president and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“That transpiring at a time of deep foment, deep troubles within the Arab world suggests . . . that the consequences in terms of homeland security, threats to the United States, and more challenges militarily in the region are likely to grow,” he added.

Campbell noted that he was pessimistic on whether the next five to 10 years would be blessed with global economic growth, peace and stability. “I think instead we are heading into a substantial conflict and deep anxieties.”

Steinberg also discussed the long-term implications of what will happen to Iraq after the possible U.S. attack.

“First, Iraq is a critical country not only as an important source of oil, but a major source of the whole political balance in the region,” he said. “How Iraq proceeds — whether it is splintered into different countries (along ethnic and religious groupings), whether there is a new military dictatorship, or a democracy that provides an example to the rest of the Arab world — will have a profound impact on the region as a whole.”

Steinberg also discussed how other countries in the region will respond. “Will this trigger mass unrest in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and what will that do (both in economic and security terms)? How will this affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will this become an opportunity to make new progress, or deepen the conflict?”

He said the current phase is “one of the great moments in history in which great choices will be made.”

There will be a profoundly positive impact “if Iraq is dealt with through the international community with the support of others and an effective strategy that recognizes the interests of all the countries in the region,” he said.

On the other hand, he warned against “deep implications for years to come” if Iraq is dealt with unilaterally by the U.S. in ways that cause deep unrest and more conflict.

Kevin Nealer, principal and partner of the Scowcroft Group, also said the possibility of a war against Iraq poses uncertainties for the U.S. economy, which is already facing the threat of deflation.

“If the (Bush) administration’s best hope is realized in some ways and the war occurs quickly and is resolved quickly, I still see not very much that is attractive for the economy,” Nealer said. “You remove the cloud of the pendency of war, but you substitute for that an open-ended commitment (as described by Campbell).”

Nealer also touched on the cost of a possible war. “I have the sense that no one in Tokyo will write a $13 billion check this time,” he said, referring to Japan’s financial contribution to the U.S.-led force that ousted Iraq from Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“The cost of war is variously estimated in the U.S. — from $13 billion on the conservative side to $141 billion (over a five-year period),” he noted.

Inconvenient North Korea

With Washington preoccupied with Iraq, North Korea also poses another potential security crisis.

“Nothing could be more inconvenient” than the recent revelation that North Korea has secretly pursued a nuclear weapons program, Campbell told the symposium.

Campbell said when U.S. officials went to Pyongyang in October, “they fully expected North Korea to deny allegations they were conducting a secret nuclear program . . . I think they were a little bit shocked, not unlike how Japanese officials were shocked” when North Korea acknowledged its agents had kidnapped Japanese citizens more than two decades ago.

“That has put a substantial wrench in trilateral engagement toward Pyongyang, and that complex trigonometry (among) Seoul, Washington and Tokyo means it is very hard for any one country to get ahead of the general path of engagement toward Pyongyang,” he observed.

Campbell said he personally believes that two months of “pretty hopeful engagement” between Tokyo and Pyongyang — beginning with the Sept. 17 landmark summit between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il — will be “very hard to sustain.”

“I would not say it’s dead in the water, but it’s going to be very hard to make progress going forward,” he said.

Citing what he called a “Pyongyang principle,” Campbell observed that “every time you push forward — very aggressively, with all your diplomatic creativity — to improve relations (with North Korea), there is an equal and opposite swing back — generally just a couple of weeks after.”

Indeed, North Korea, which apologized for the abductions and sent back five surviving Japanese abductees, hardened its diplomatic stance when normalization talks at the end of October failed to make progress. North Korea is now threatening to cancel planned security talks unless Japan returns the five abductees to Pyongyang.

Campbell said Washington, preoccupied with how to deal with Iraq, apparently does not want to engage North Korea at this moment.

“The preference is for North Korea to abide by its agreements without further inducements. (But) I think North Korea is much more likely to try to trigger a crisis in the next several months, and that will be very inconvenient timing and very challenging for all countries involved,” he said.

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